2010 Kia Forte EX: On Your Chopin Liszt?

July 17, 2010

Kia Forte EX:  An Automotive Crescendo?

Kia introduced its Forte with much fanfare at the 2009 Chicago Auto Show.  The amped presentation exclaimed, "bold body, awesome features!"  Does it live up to the hype?  On paper maybe...

Look at the Forte EX's $19,300 window sticker and begin your checklist:

peppy 2.0-liter 156-hp engine (check), antilock brakes with stability control (check), advanced airbags (check), air conditioning (check), leather seat trim (check), sunroof (check), generous warranty (check), and 16-inch alloy wheels (check).   Looking good...

Items you cannot tick include: telescoping steering wheel (na) six-speed automatic transmission (na), smooth ride (na) or posh interior (na).   Opt for an upgrade, the ES variation, and you get energetic 173-hp four with six-speed manual or five-speed automatic with even more perks.

Unlike its Hyundai corporate cousin (Elantra), Kia tweaked this front-drive compact to provide a firm ride and with heavier, sporty steering feel.  When you begin driving it, you think it's a spry Mazda 3-like sedan.  That goodness quickly diminishes.

Step firmly on the vertical pedal, for instance, and the engine roars-it's rowdy.  With only four forward speeds, you'll notice power delivery pauses.  Shifts are gentle.  Sportmatic, a select-it-yourself mode, stands by-just find the correct shift-console slot.  Bumps aren't the Forte's forte; it easily looses its composure.  Rather than envelop pockmarked roads, the suspension pounds with cabin-upsetting jolts.  Improved compliance is desired, when you motor in the upper Midwest.  Where road are smoother, the Kia fares better.

The exterior's metal sculpture is muscular.  It's squirted with glossy paint.  Forte styling cribs some Honda Civic cues.  The interior's layout doesn't mimic the Civic's ode-to-Star Trek split-level dash-a good thing.  Its execution, however, is replete with overhead plugs, under-dash toe snagging bits (right front), exposed screws and uneven hard-plastic panels. Seat upholstery isn't Sanforized--lots of puckered seams.  And the leather hides came from vinyl cows.

Instruments are straightforward with an extinguishable ECO light.  I eked out 27 mpg.  EPA's figures:  25 city; 34 highway.

The rear seatback folds forward.  This opens a modest postal-slot.  There isn't a center pass-through for skis or snowboards.  Like its Hyundai brethren, the rear trunk lid is a naughty soccer star; it doesn't open far enough to prevent an inadvertent "headbutt" and its hinges squish luggage.

The back room accepts two modest-size adults.  Support is skimpy, nonetheless, you sit on a contoured platform.  Unlike some Kias, your knees won't rub on hard-plastic front seatback shells.  Pleasantly soft material awaits.  Toes beware:  knife-like hardware resides under the front seats.

Coda:  Kia's Forte EX overture begins with lots of bang for the buck.  After the exposition, it concludes with some sour notes; its power delivery, ride and interior trim are still in rehearsal.  Yet, it represents an upgrade compared with the Spectra sedan that it replaces.  It also presents a promising design vocabulary.

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